Entry Controls in Java

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Entry controls enable users to enter new information into an application, rather than merely selecting information from an existing list. The most basic entry control is a text edit field. Like selection controls, entry controls represent nouns to the program. Because a combo box contains an edit field, some combo box variants qualify as entry controls, too. Also, any control that lets users enter a numeric value is an entry control. Controls such as spinners, gauges, sliders, and knobs fit in this category.
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Bounded and unbounded entry controls
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Any control that restricts the available set of values that a user can enter is a bounded entry control. A slider that moves from 1 to 100, for example, is bounded. Regardless of a user s actions, no number outside those specified by the program can be entered with a bounded control. It is thus impossible for users to enter an invalid value with bounded entry controls.
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Conversely, a simple text field can accept any alphanumeric data a user keys into it. This open-ended entry idiom is an example of an unbounded entry control. With an unbounded entry control, it is easy for users to enter invalid values. The program may subsequently reject it, of course, but users can still enter it. Simply put, bounded controls should be used wherever bounded values are needed. If the program needs a number between 7 and 35, presenting users with a control that accepts any numeric value from 1,000,000 to +1,000,000 is not doing anyone any favors. People would much rather be presented with a control that embodies 7 as its bottom limit and 35 as its upper limit (clearly indicating these limits is also useful). Users are smart, and they will immediately comprehend and respect the limits of their sandbox. It is important to understand that we mean a quality of the entry control and not of the data. To be a bounded control, it needs to clearly communicate, preferably visually, the acceptable data boundaries to the user. A text field that rejects a user s input after he has entered it is not a bounded control. It is simply a rude control.
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DESIGN principle
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Most quantitative values needed by software are bounded, yet many programs allow unbounded entry with numeric fields. When a user inadvertently enters a value that the program cannot accept, the program issues an error message box. This is cruelly teasing the user with possibilities that aren t. What would you like for dessert We ve got everything, we say. Ice cream, you respond. Sorry, we don t have any, we say. How about pie you innocently ask. Nope, we say. Cookies Nope. Candy Nope. Chocolate Nope. What, then you scream in anger and frustration. Don t get mad, we say indignantly. We have plenty of fruit compote. This is how users feel when we put up a dialog box with an unbounded edit field when the valid values are bounded. A user types 17, and we reward this innocent entry with an error message box that says You can only enter values between 4 and 8. This is poor userinterface design; a much better scheme is to use a bounded control that automatically limits the input to 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8. If the bounded set of choices is composed of text rather than numbers, you can still use a slider of some type, or a combo box, or list box. Figure 21-15 shows a bounded slider used by Microsoft in the Windows Display Settings dialog. It works like a slider or scrollbar, but has four discrete positions that represent distinct resolution settings. Microsoft could easily have used a noneditable combo box in its place, too. In many cases, a slider is a nice choice because it telegraphs the range of valid entries. A combo box isn t much smaller but it keeps its cards hidden until clicked a less friendly stance.
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